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Chapter 14

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Fort Crawford
and the Frontier

by
Bruce E. Mahan

The State Historical Society of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa, 1926

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Chapter 16

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p241 XV
Glimpses of Garrison Life

From many scattered sources glimpses of the life of the garrison at Fort Crawford may be obtained. The General Regulations for the Army, printed accounts of chance visitors or early settlers, reminiscences of a soldier at the post, reports of government representatives at Indian treaties held at Prairie du Chien, and occasional items in the Post Returns indicate in part the daily routine, the pleasures, and sorrows of men and women at this frontier fort.

At dawn the trumpeters of the post took their stations, and the ringing tones of reveille called the sleeping garrison to the duties of the day. The rolls of the companies were called in front of the quarters; then the quarters were put in order; the ground in front swept; and the horses fed and watered. After sick call had sounded those who were ill in the barracks were taken to the hospital. Following a second roll-call breakfast was served under the supervision of a member of the garrison designated as "officer of the day". A detail known as the "General Fatigue" swept the parade ground; or if the guardhouse held enough prisoners to do this work, they fell heir to this disagreeable task. Sentinels were posted, and details formed to do the work for that day.

At three o'clock in the afternoon a third roll-call was followed by dinner. Half an hour before sunset the trumpeters called the garrison for dress parade. Drills and p242maneuvers were practiced, and orders were read. Following dress parade, companies were dismissed, arms were placed in the armracks, and the horses were bedded for the night. Another roll-call was followed by tattoo, candles were extinguished, and the troops settled down in their quarters for the night.566

Routine tasks of the garrison varied with the seasons of the year. In the spring and summer details were sent across the Mississippi to cultivate gardens on an extensive military reservation in the Iowa country adjoining the old Spanish land grant to Giard. Other detachments were assigned the task of making hay for the horses and cattle at the post. This, too, was obtained on the broad prairie of the military reservation. And before the government established the policy of letting the contract to supply wood for the fort to private individuals many soldiers were employed for months in the fall in cutting the enormous supply of logs needed for the ravenous mouths of the fireplaces during the long, cold winters.567

As related in an earlier chapter, many tasks occupied the garrison during the years when the new Fort Crawford was being built. Quarrying stone in the nearby bluffs, cutting pine logs on the distant Chippewa, sawing lumber at the government mill on Yellow River, getting out shingles and squared pickets, burning lime at the coulee across the Mississippi, and using these materials in the construction of the post — all these were some of the menial tasks of the soldiers at Fort Crawford. Such, however, was not the life for which the recruit had enlisted. Far more satisfactory must have been trips to the lead mine region to enforce the laws of the United States, or into the Indian country to capture renegade Winnebago or Sauk and Foxes.

p243 Routine garrison duty and field campaigns, however, did not occupy all of the time of the soldiers at Fort Crawford. Play, too, mingled with work. At the close of the Indian council in 1829, for example, Commissioners Atwater, Menard, and McNeil decided to give their friends at Prairie du Chien a ball on the evening preceding their departure. The ball was held at the council house, and was attended by the officers of the fort and their wives, as well as by all the best families of the village. It was an interesting scene. Inside the council house were men and women of culture and refinement, West Point graduates, and gentle ladies from cities of the East; outside the house, peeking through the doors and windows, and occasionally dancing by themselves in the open air was a motley crowd of curious half-breeds and the common folk of the village. The officers and their families from Fort Crawford and the "best families of the Prairie were all very happy", said Atwater in describing the event, and "we parted from them all in friendship, and retired to rest, at about midnight."568

At Fort Crawford, too, the officers had established a library and reading room at their own expense. The books consisted of useful works connected with their calling such as works of history, geography, mathematics, chemistry, and other sciences. Although the officers might not be informed as to immediate events due to the irregular and infrequent mail service, yet at belated intervals files of leading newspapers and periodicals such as the National Intelligencer and the National Gazette were received and read with care.569

Nor was the education of the children at the post neglected. "It was an interesting sight", said Atwater, to see such persons as Colonel Taylor, Dr. Beaumont, and p244Major Garland "educating a family of young children." The post school was under the direction of the commandant of the garrison, and furnished instruction for children of the officers, soldiers, and prominent families of Prairie du Chien. Usually the post chaplain conducted the school, although other persons were sometimes engaged for this task. In 1817, for example, a sergeant, who was a person of good character and education, taught the post school at old Fort Crawford, receiving for his labors fifteen cents a day above his regular army wages of five dollars a month. When the Reverend Richard F. Cadle, an Episcopalian minister, became chaplain at Fort Crawford in 1836, he also began a five year career as teacher of the post school. Oftentimes the older children of commissioned officers were sent east or abroad to be educated, but the fundamentals of education were learned at the fort.570

Atwater felt that all officers who had been in the Indian country ten years ought to be relieved at once by others. Colonel Taylor, commandant at Fort Crawford at the time of his visit, had been in the Indian country with his family continuously for twenty years. In this frontier wilderness both he and his wife, who had grown up in the "most polished and refined society", had been compelled to rear, as well as they could, their "worthy and most interesting family of children." "The situation of delicate females, belonging to some of the best families in the nation, reared in tenderness, amidst all the luxuries and refinements of polished society, now living in a fort" called, he thought, for sympathy and admiration of their fortitude. When the writer was ill from exposure, miserable water, and poor cookery, and worn down by fatigue and worry, he found sympathy, food that he could eat, p245and smiles and kindness from the families at Fort Crawford. The younger officers, too, West Point graduates for the most part, were a brave, energetic, and honorable group. "These officers, belonging to the first families in the nation" and "educated in the very best manner" were induced by their self respect "to conduct themselves in the very best manner on all occasions." They feared nothing but disgrace which might come from bad conduct and "they scrupulously avoided such conduct everywhere, and at all times." A most hospitable lot, too, were these young officers, and they took special delight in giving a dancing party at the fort in honor of some visitor at Prairie du Chien. In May, 1830, for example, a ball was held in the new fort then being built. Only the walls were up at this time, the windows were not in nor were the doors hung, but the floor was smooth and offered a good surface for dancing. "The party was a delightful one" declared the guest of honor, the wife of a visiting lawyer from Green Bay.571

Late in the fall of 1833, Charles J. Latrobe, an English traveler, visited Fort Crawford after an arduous seven day trip from Galena in a wagon. Just as the party was coming down to the Prairie from the uplands about six miles from the fort they caught up with the postman trudging along, and invited him to ride. Soon after he had climbed aboard the "mud‑waggon" the whole outfit — six persons, carpet-bags, mail-bags, mats, guns, and coats — was spilled out in the long grass of the Prairie by the sudden overturning of the vehicle. Nobody was hurt and nothing was broken, so gathering themselves up, they righted the wagon, replaced the scattered articles, and climbing aboard rode merrily to the fort where they were received with "that warmth of p246welcome which makes the traveller feel at once at home."572

While making preparations to ascend the Mississippi to the Falls of St. Anthony Latrobe found the time passing "pleasantly enough", in the society of Colonel Taylor and a half dozen officers at the post. From Fort Crawford he proceeded up the Mississippi by canoe to Fort Snelling and upon his return to Prairie du Chien again became the guest of the officers of the garrison. Agreeable as he found his position at the mess of the officers of Fort Crawford the lateness of the season required that he start southward unless he wished to accept their offer of winter quarters. The fortunate arrival of two barge loads of recruits en route from the Atlantic seaboard to St. Louis via the Great Lakes, Fox‑Wisconsin, and Mississippi River waterway provided a means of transportation down the river. On November 17, 1833, with the thermometer already below freezing and the river beginning to close they pushed away from the "hospitable shore of Prairie du Chien" leaving "as warm-hearted a set of fine young fellows, and as staunch and brave an old Colonel as you would wish to see."573

During the spring, summer, and fall visits could be made by the ladies at Fort Crawford with their friends at Fort Snelling or Fort Winnebago, while military necessity brought frequent contacts between detachments of these posts.574 But when winter came, and the frozen river shut off contact with the outside world, the isolation at Fort Crawford was complete. Traders were absent at Indian villages in quest of fur, and only through the infrequent arrival of a mail carrier or a visitor did the soldiers learn of events in the world outside. During this season of the year the garrison had to seek amusement p247within the fort, and amateur theatricals, perhaps more than any other endeavor, served to drive away dull care. Charles Fenno Hoffman, a New Yorker who spent the winter of 1834‑1835 in the Upper Northwest, left an intimate picture of a visit to Prairie du Chien during which he witnessed a dramatic performance at Fort Crawford. He wrote:

"The shadows of its western bluffs had deepened far over the broad surface of the ice‑bound Mississippi, though a flood of yellow light still bathed the gray walls of Fort Crawford, as its extensive barracks lay in the form of an isolated square on the level meadow beneath us; while, farther to the north, a number of dingy wooden buildings, which looked like a fishing hamlet, on the immediate banks of the river, were momentarily growing more indistinct in the advancing twilight."575

The visitors drove up to a tavern, a comfortable frame building surrounded by a stockade fence of pickets ten or fifteen feet high. A voyageur or two and a few half-breeds were loitering about the door; and a tall Menominee Indian "with a tuft of drooping feathers on his crown, was standing with folded arms apart from the rest." A portly soldier-like German, who had formerly been a non‑commissioned officer, proved to be the landlord, and led Hoffman to a room "heated to suffocation by a large Canadian stove". He handed the guest a strip of newly-written paper which, much to the visitor's surprise, proved to be a play-bill. "The public were respectfully informed "that the sterling English comedy" of Who Wants a Guinea and Fielding's afterpiece of Don Quixote in England with "songs, recitations, &c." would be presented that evening by the soldiers of the First Regiment at Fort Crawford.

p248 Here was an unlooked for opportunity. Learning that it would be impossible on account of the deep snow and prospect of an early thaw to proceed on his journey to the Falls of St. Anthony and having no plans for the evening, Hoffman regarded the proposed performance with pleasurable anticipation.

The sleigh in which he had come to Prairie du Chien carried him in a few minutes within the sally-port of the fort. Handing the ticket which the landlord had given him to a soldier door-keeper, Hoffman entered a large barrack room which the soldiers had fitted up as a theatre. The scenery, neatly done, had been painted by them, and the lights "ingeniously placed in bayonets" were "prettily arranged". "The seats, rising like the pit of a theatre, were so adjusted as to separate the audience in three divisions: the officers with their families furnished one, the soldiers another, and 'gumboes', Indians, and a negro servant or two made up the third." A "superb looking squaw of the Sauk and Fox tribe" attracted the visitor's attention as he entered the room, and prevented him from going beyond the third section of seats. Clad in a rich and beautiful costume she sat between "two pretty but plainly dressed Menomone girls."

The curtain arose as the visitor was studying the "noble features and tasteful finery" of the Indian maiden, and "contrasting the striking and somewhat voluptuous character of both with the simple attire and less mature charms of the two nut‑brown beauties beside her." Every eye was then directed at the stage, and Hoffman remained standing against the door post until the act was concluded. While he was wishing for some one to whom he might express his surprise at the skill with which the soldiers played their parts, an officer made p249his way to the rear, and very politely insisted on Hoffman's taking a seat in the more favored part of the house. "The ordinary interchange of common-places between gentlemen who are strangers to each other ensued", and then without knowing his name or anything about him the officer invited the visitor to take up quarters in the garrison. Hoffman declined the invitation, but exchanged cards with the officer, and remained to watch the completion of the show.

Scarcely had he finished breakfast the next morning when his new acquaintance, accompanied by Colonel Taylor and a young subaltern called at the tavern to repeat the invitation of the night before. They brought along a soldier with a sled to transport his baggage to the fort and a horse for him to ride. To refuse such a cordial offer of hospitality would have been absurd, and an hour later found Hoffman "with a handsomely furnished room" in Fort Crawford, "a fine saddle-horse" placed at his disposal, and a servant at his call, "sitting down to the mess with as agreeable a set of young fellows" as he ever met.

The visitor spent nearly three weeks in the congenial company of the garrison, and every morning at reveille he awoke with the sad realization that each day brought him nearer to the time when he had to leave the hospitality of the officers of Fort Crawford.

The garrison at this time consisted of five companies of infantry well quartered in the almost completed new barracks. The buildings, he said, enclosed an area large enough for battalion drill. The parade was "nicely graveled", and a colonnade or porch extending around three sides of the parade gave "a cheerful aspect to the whole." The place, he thought, would be easily tenable p250against hordes of Indians "should they be mad enough to assail it." There was not a tree around it and artillery stationed at each angle of the parallelogram could sweep the whole Prairie.576

Amusements, however, were limited. Sometimes at the village of Prairie du Chien the officers amused themselves by getting up a "gumbo ball", a sort of harlequinade, among the voyageurs, hunters, and half-breed residents of the place. Hoffman found a small but well-chosen library at the post, and several companies had miscellaneous libraries of their own — "a fact exceedingly creditable to the private soldier." When the resources of the library were exhausted, or a pipe of "kinnekinic" ceased to charm, hunting became the great source of amusement for officers of the garrison. Grouse in great numbers were found on the prairie, snipe, too, were abundant in season, and a canoe-load of ducks could easily be killed when they began to fly on the Mississippi. Elk, bear, and wolves were the game for those who were more ambitious and willing to go farther to seek their sport. The meat of the first, Hoffman had not tasted, but a sirloin of bear with some old wine from Colonel Taylor's hospitable cellar had made a "capital dinner" the day before at the commandant's quarters.577

During his stay at Fort Crawford Hoffman and an officer, both on horseback, ascended one of the adjacent bluffs to the east by winding up a ravine in the rear. This brought them to a "round, bold, grassy height", overlooking the prairie, to which the bluff descended by "two sheer precipices of rock, of about a hundred feet each, with alternate slopes of soil, covered with long yellow grass — the whole having the appearance of some vast fortress — an enormous bastion thrown up in huge p251layers of earth and stone." On the very summit of this bluff was an Indian mound, one of the many extensive works of this sort scattered over this section of Wisconsin. The snow had entirely left the prairie, but still clung "like flakes of morning mist round the rocky brows of the adjacent bluffs." The two men could look, though it was two miles off, into the very center of Fort Crawford where "the gleam of arms flashing over the sanded parade" told of troops in motion. A hundred wooded islets dotted the glistening ice of the frozen Mississippi, and here and there where the blue water had "broken its white fetters" tiny waves sparkled in the sun. In the distance on the Iowa shore loomed the bold promontory "Pike's Hill" — the mountain which had caught the attention of Marquette and Joliet over a century and a half before.578

Before taking leave of his new‑made friends at Fort Crawford Hoffman had the privilege of taking part in a wolf-hunt by moonlight, and though the hunters were not fortunate enough to start any game, the visitor had an exciting chase. Among the dogs of the pack was a grayhound of the wolf specie. Coming upon this "long-haired rascal" in some long grass Hoffman mistook him in the doubtful light of the moon for a real wolf, and spurring on his Indian pony gave chase. The dog, thinking doubtless that there was game in view, made at once toward the bluff. Convinced that he had started up a wolf Hoffman shouted to his companions, the rest of the pack broke into full cry, and away they went all together. They ran more than a mile before the blunder was discovered. The officers enjoyed a laugh at the visitor's expense, but relieved his chagrin "by mentioning that the same dog had severe times narrowly escaped being p252shot by some of the old the hunters of the country, who, in broad day, had, as they expressed it, 'mistrusted him for some wild varmint'."579

In the fall of 1835 Charles Augustus Murray, the English traveller and writer, came to Prairie du Chien on his tour up the Mississippi. On presenting his letters of introduction at Fort Crawford he was received with the same warmth of hospitality which other visitors had noted. A plate was laid for him at the commandant's table, and another officer, in whose quarters he lodged, insisted on the visitor occupying his bed while the officer slept on a sofa fitted up with a buffalo robe.580

During his stay at Fort Crawford Murray accompanied a hunting party of officers and men toward the headwaters of Turkey River. The party set out in a large boat, with a light cart, a pony, plenty of provisions, and a good supply of ammunition. They ascended the Mississippi for some ten miles pushing the boat along slowly with long poles against a strong head wind "accompanied by an icy chilling sleet". Landing at an island where a number of Winnebago had an encampment the members of the party crept into the lodges to warm themselves. Despite the wind and sleet they soon resumed their slow ascent of the river to Painted Rock where the hunters disembarked for the overland trip to Turkey River. The whole party — three officers, four soldiers, Murray, and his servant — commenced their march into the interior on foot, and the stout pony drew their baggage in the cart. A three days trip brought them to the hunting ground. Several days were spent in hunting deer, elk, and bear with poor success, but ducks and pheasants were killed in great abundance. Bee trees were found, and cut down for the delicious honey they contained. At p253night the soldiers made a huge bonfire of heavy logs that effectively defied the damp and cold. Winnebago Indians hunting in the same region apparently resented the intrusion of the whites, and annoyed the hunters in many ways — setting fire to the prairies and woods about them, driving away the game by firing promiscuously in the region thereabouts, and making themselves generally disagreeable. After an absence of a fortnight the hunters returned to Fort Crawford more or less disappointed at their meager success. After remaining for several days enjoying the hospitalities of the fort, Murray set out with a horse and cart and a driver for Galena.581

In the late fall of 1835, another visitor, George William Featherstonhaugh,a stopped at Fort Crawford on his way to make a geological survey of the Minnesota Valley. Some of the officers came down to the beach when he landed and escorted the visitor to a commodious room in their quarters of the fort. Almost immediately afterward Colonel Taylor called upon the guest and offered him the hospitalities of the post.582

Having seen his Canadian boatmen encamped in a proper place, and cautioning them against getting drunk Featherstonhaugh had his effects brought into the fort. After supping with the officers at their mess he paid a visit to the commanding officer, and with him adjourned to the barrack theatre where the soldier Thespians that night were to present "The Poor Gentleman". Unlike Hoffman who thought the amateur acting of the soldiers remarkably well done Featherstonhaugh declared that the only three decent performers in the cast were "an Englishman, an Irishman, and a Scotsman; the rest seemed to have neither sense nor feeling". Miss Emily "was impersonated in a most astounding manner; such p254a monster in petticoats, and a stick in feeling, probably never was exhibited before." The house was crowded and applause greeted the efforts to actors. Despite his criticism of the performance the visitor recognized in this type of intellectual exhibition by the common soldier a means of diversion from low debauchery. While Featherstonhaugh enjoyed the hospitalities of Colonel Taylor and his officers, his voyageurs were being so fully entertained by people of their own blood in the village that it took the combined efforts of their master and a sergeant to get them rounded up and started on the voyage to Fort Snelling.583

The routine of garrison life at the posts of the Upper Northwest was occasionally broken by the arrival of recruits from St. Louis or the East, and likewise by the transfer of officers and men from one post to another. Details of the transfer of one such detachment from Fort Winnebago to Fort Crawford have been preserved in the diary of the noted English author and traveller, Captain Frederick Marryat, who in the late thirties made a tour to the Upper Mississippi Region as a part of his general visit to America.584

Marryat had visited the eastern part of the United States, thence had swung northward into the provinces of Upper Canada. At Windsor he embarked on the steamboat Michigan for Chicago, but when the opportunity came to travel overland with a detachment of recruits from Fort Howard to Fort Winnebago he disembarked at Green Bay. The entire party consisting of some one hundred recruits, the accompanying officers, and the noted visitor made the journey from Green Bay to the Portage in wagons over the recently established military road.585

p255 At Fort Winnebago Marryat accepted the invitation to accompany a small detachment of officers and men to Prairie du Chien in a keel-boat that had brought a cargo of flour for the garrison at the Portage. These officers who had been ordered to join the garrison at Fort Crawford had chartered this large boat "to transport themselves, families, furniture, and horses, all at once down to their destination." The boat was about one hundred and twenty feet long, and covered over at the height of some six feet above the gunwale. It impressed the Englishman as being much in appearance like the "Noah's Ark" given to children except that the roof was flat. It was an unwieldy craft and needed at least twenty-five men with poles or long sweeps to manage it, but the officers had decided that, since the trip was to be made down stream, a crew of six soldiers with short oars, and a pilot would be sufficient. The boat was poorly equipped, too, having on board only an old piece of rope for a tow‑line and a single axe. Freight consisted of furniture stowed forward and aft, a horse and a cow, and supplies for the journey. In addition the crew and pilot the party consisted of a servant and a maid, the wife of an officer and five children, two officers, and Captain Marryat.

The entire garrison at Fort Winnebago came down to the shore to see the start of the journey to Fort Crawford. No sooner was the rope cast off than away went the keel-boat driven along in the strong current at the rate of about five miles an hour. "The river passed through forests of oak, the large limbs of which hung from fifteen to twenty feet over the banks on either side; sometimes whole trees lay prostrate in the stream, held by their roots still partially remaining in the ground, p256while their trunks and branches offering resistance to the swift current, created a succession of small masses of froth, which floated away on the dark green water."586

The craft had not proceeded far before those on board realized their mistake in starting out with the boat undermanned. It was almost impossible to manage the keel-boat, and the party found themselves at the mercy of the current "which appeared to increase in rapidity every minute." The crew managed, however, to keep the boat in the middle of the stream until a wind sprang up and drove it over to the southern bank of the river. Then "all was cracking and tearing away of the wood-work, breaking of limbs from the projecting trees, snapping, cracking, screaming, hallooing, and confusion." As soon as the boat was cleared from one tree the current bore it down upon another, and no sooner was the superstructure cleared than the bottom of the boat became entangled in roots and submerged trees. As there was no boat or canoe on board a soldier swung himself ashore by the limbs of an oak tree and went back to disengage the rudder. He succeeded in doing this, and down stream he came clinging to the floating wreck. As he came past the keel-boat the crew managed to catch him, and tieing the keel-boat up to the shore succeeded in reshipping the rudder. The rest of the day was "a continuation of the same eventful history." Every half hour or so the party found themselves wedged tight between spreading limbs of oak trees, and had to use their single axe to free themselves. Each time they lost "a further portion of the frame-work" of the boat "either from the roof, the sides, or by tearing away of the stancheons themselves." At last a little before p257sunset the boat was again swept against the bank with such force "as to draw the pintles" of the rudder. Before it could be replaced it was "time to make fast for the night". Tieing up the keel-boat with the rotten towline which creaked and strained in an alarming fashion, the party disembarked, made a large fire, and cooked their evening meal.587

With the rudder repaired the party cast off again the next morning, and without any serious mishaps arrived at the shot-tower, where they spent the second night on their journey to Fort Crawford. Finding a shot-tower in this wilderness impressed Marryat with the enterprise of the Americans. Lead from the smelting furnaces some twelve miles inland, he said, was brought here, "made into shot, and then sent down the river to the Mississippi, by which, and its tributary streams, it is supplied to all America, west of the Alleghenies."588

On the third day of the journey the keel-boat made rapid progress without much further damage as there was little wind. Prairie land now began to alternate with the "mountain scenery" through which they had been passing. Toward the close of the day, however, the boat became badly entangled among some trees, and in attempting to cut away the overhanging branches a soldier dropped the axe into deep water. The party was in dismay.

The following day brought a series of misfortunes. The boat was continually twisted and whirled about, floating sometimes with the bow, sometimes stern foremost, but quite as often with its broadside to the stream. The vessel was thrown from one back to the other, bumping and cracking along. As the axe was gone the crew and passengers were compelled to use their bare hands in p258getting the boat loose from entangling branches. Once more the rudder was unshipped and with great difficulty replaced. By this time nearly half of the upper structure of the boat was gone, "one part after another having been torn off by the limbs of the trees as the impetuous current" drove them along. To add to their difficulties "a strong wind rose against the current, and the boat became quite unmanageable."

Toward noon two Menominee Indians in a dug‑out came alongside the "Noah's Ark", and as it was doubtful whether the keel-boat would reach Prairie du Chien by nightfall or be left stranded on a sand‑bar, Captain Marryat climbed into the canoe with them to go down to the ferry landing on the Wisconsin below Prairie du Chien. Thence he planned to cross over to Fort Crawford of inform the garrison of their plight and to obtain assistance.589

The two Indians paddled swiftly away down stream, and in a short time those in the dug‑out had lost sight of the keel-boat. The canoe was small for three people, and in addition, had lost part of its prow, and as a result, with each dip of the paddles the river threatened to engulf the occupants. Nevertheless, the Indians brought their passenger safely to the landing place after about two hours of paddling.

Having with some difficulty obtained a horse, Marryat set out for Fort Crawford. After riding about four miles he "passed the mountains" and came suddenly "upon the beautiful prairie (on which were founding several herd of cattle and horses), with the fort in the distance, and the wide waters of the Upper Mississippi flowing beyond it." He crossed the Prairie, found his way to the fort, explained the plight of the party, and requested assistance. p259A detail of soldiers with carriages was dispatched immediately to the ferry landing but upon their arrival found that the keel-boat had reached this place without further difficulty. Before sunset the whole party on the "Noah's Ark" had been brought to the fort where they were "comfortably accommodated in the barracks", while a sufficient number of soldiers had been left with the keel-boat to bring it around to the landing on the Mississippi — a distance of some twelve miles.590

The beauty of the scenery about Prairie du Chien, which was the constant delight of the officers and men at Fort Crawford, caught the fancy of the visiting Englishman. The site of the Prairie he described as "a beautiful meadow about eight miles long by two broad" backed with high bluffs "verdant two‑thirds of the way up, and crowned with rocky summits." The bluffs, he said, rose "very abruptly, often in a sugar-loaf form, from the flat-lands" and "their peculiar formation and vivid green sides, contrasting with their blue and gray summits" gave them the appearance of a "succession of ramparts investing the prairie." Fort Crawford, said the visitor, was "like most other American outposts, a mere inclosure, intended to repel the attacks of the Indians", but was large and commodious, the officers' quarters were excellent, and unlike Fort Howard and Fort Winnebago, it was "built of stone". The Iowa shore opposite Fort Crawford was "composed of high cliffs, covered with timber, which, not only in form, but in tint and colour", reminded the visitor "very much of Glover's landscapes of the mountainous parts of Scotland and Wales."591

During his stay as a guest of the officers at Fort Crawford, Captain Marryat made one or two excursions to examine the ancient mounds in the immediate neighborhood. p260He also had the opportunity to observe a number of Winnebago Indians at Prairie du Chien. They were "almost always in a state of intoxication", he said, and revealed clearly their debasement by intercourse with the whites and the use of spirituous liquors. Marryat remained a week enjoying the hospitality of the garrison at Fort Crawford and left his "kind entertainers with regret", but the opportunity to go to Fort Snelling in a steamboat with General Atkinson, then on a tour of inspection of the Upper Mississippi posts, was too favorable a chance to neglect.592

Although the life of the garrison at Fort Crawford ran for the most part in unexciting channels, grim tragedy and alarm occasionally filled a page in the annals of the post. During the command of Major Kearny in 1828, for instance, an event took place most tragic in its outcome and tremendous in its effect on the garrison. Among the soldiers at this time was a young man, Reneka by name, of good education, who had joined the army for the sake of adventure. His careful attention to duty and unfailing courtesy made him a favorite with both officers and men. He allowed himself, however, to join some companions in a drinking party. Unused to liquor he soon became sick and started for the barracks. Soon he emerged with a rifle, and rushing out on the parade ground swung it around his head like a madman. Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.John Mackenzie, officer of the day, strode out to learn the cause of the commotion, and ordered a corporal to take Reneka to the guardhouse. The latter paused a moment, raised his rifle, and shot Mackenzie through the head, killing him instantly. Reneka was arrested and confined in the guardhouse; then tried, convicted, and sentenced to be hanged. The gallows was built near the p261Slough of St. Feriole, east of the old Fort Crawford, where Reneka marched to his doom. Before the trap was sprung he made a touching speech to his companions urging them to leave liquor alone. Sick with remorse for his hasty act, he bravely paid the penalty for his crime.593

Besides the Reneka tragedy two other brutal murders stained the annals of Fort Crawford. In 1831 an officer, J. P. Hall, struck a soldier named Barrette on the head with a pitchfork handle and broke his skull. Although Hall was acquitted he never forgot the murder, and left the service.594 In the second instance, a provost sergeant, Coffin, by name, who was hated by the men because he delighted in snooping into affairs and reporting breaches of conduct, saw a soldier by name of Beckett sneaking out of the fort one night after tattoo had sounded. Coffin caught Beckett just as he was climbing down on the outside of the fort, and kicked and beat him until he was insensible. Then he ordered the victim of his brutality to be dragged away to the guardhouse. After a long stay in the hospital Beckett rejoined his company where he had been a general favorite. But his usual cheerful disposition had changed to one of gloom. Some days later he entered a room where Coffin stood with his back to the door, and shot him dead with an army musket. Beckett was arrested and placed in the guardhouse, but he managed to effect his escape. Later, however, he was discovered in the lead mine region south of Cassville, Wisconsin, by lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.William Harris who was hunting for deserters in that part of the country. Beckett was taken to Mineral Point, tried by the civil authorities, and sentenced to be hanged. He was brought back to Prairie du Chien where, like Reneka, he paid the extreme penalty for his crime. But the sheriff who hanged him p262barely escaped on a horse with his life, for the friends of Beckett, enraged at the indignities shown him, tried to kill the executioner.595

In pleasant contrast to the grim tragedies at Fort Crawford just narratedT was the courtship of Lieutenant Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Jefferson Davis when he wooed and won Sarah Knox Taylor, the fair daughter of his commanding officer. A persistent tradition has it that the young lovers when confronted with parental disapproval of the match, eloped from Fort Crawford, but unfortunately the facts in the case spoil this pretty story. It is true that Colonel Taylor, hoping, it is said, to spare his daughter the hardships and discomforts of the wife of an officer at frontier army posts, opposed the match. Miss Taylor, however, married Davis, with the knowledge but without the approval of her father, at the home of his sister, and in the presence of other relatives, near Louisville, Kentucky.596

At Fort Crawford, as at other frontier army posts, the presence of grog shops nearby added to the problems of discipline. During the early years of Fort Crawford whisky was a part of the soldier's ration, and this only served, it seemed, to whet his appetite for more. Drunkenness on the part of soldier workmen, it was claimed, seriously interfered with the work on the new Fort Crawford, and the defense of whisky venders in court by Sub‑agent T. P. Burnett on one occasion resulted in a lengthy controversy between him and officers of the garrison. At one time in order to check the use of liquor by soldiers "The Fort Crawford Temperance Society" was organized. Shortly thereafter Major John Garland inspected the post, and was informed of the benefits of the local society for the promotion of temperance. The soldiers, indeed, had made an impressive showing before the inspector, p263and he warmly complimented the officers on the discipline and apparent sobriety of the men. That night Major Garland and another officer took a stroll outside the fort before retiring. As they were returning to the sally-port the attention of the major was attracted by the strange antics of an approaching cat. The two officers stepped over in its direction, and suddenly the animal stopped. Garland reached down, picked it up, and discovered he held a cat's skin stuffed with a bladder full of whisky. Stepping on the string had stopped the cat's mysterious journey towards a thirsty soldier within the barracks.597

Various methods of punishment for those who disobeyed orders or violated military regulations were administered by different commandants at Fort Crawford. Confinement in the guardhouse, extra police duty, and curtailment of privileges were among the most common. But it remained for Colonel Taylor to introduce an unusual but effective method of punishment. This consisted in taking hold of both ears of the culprit and then shaking him severely, a treatment called "Wooling". One day when all the garrison had been mustered for dress parade, Colonel Taylor came out to look over his troops, and observed a big German recruit who constantly failed to execute the commands correctly because his knowledge of English was faulty and the commands not understood. Taylor, unacquainted with the true situation, thought the fellow was wilfully disobeying, and walking up to the recruit began to "wool" him. The German, resenting such treatment, drew back and struck Taylor such a blow that he fell like a log. Soldiers rushed upon the fellow ready almost to kill him for this act of insubordination to "Old Zack", but Taylor arose and ordered them to leave him p264alone, saying he would make a good soldier. The fellow afterwards became a valuable addition to the garrison, and served faithfully throughout the Black Hawk War.598

Supplies for Fort Crawford were brought from St. Louis at first by keel-boat or barge, and later by steamboat, and their loads of flour, beans, pork, salt, candles, clothing, whisky, soap, tobacco, coffee, and miscellaneous articles for the sutler's store were always welcome. Bread baked by a soldier of the garrison, meat, and beans were staple items in the soldiers' diet. Vegetables in season raised in the garrison garden across the river added variety to the mess. Game, too, killed by the sportsmen, and fish caught by the anglers of the post made a welcome change from beef and pork. When Lieutenant Martin Scott was stationed at Fort Crawford he was often sent across the river in charge of the farm detail. While the soldiers cultivated the garden plots, Scott would take his dogs and rifle and set out for his favorite hunting ground along a small stream called Bloody Run. So unerring a shot was he that invariably he bagged an abundance of wood-cock, ducks, and pheasants for the evening mess.599

Out of the soldiers' modest cash allowance of six dollars a month he could buy small necessities and some luxuries at the sutler's store. The sutler was the authorized merchant at the post, and to prevent him from charging unreasonable amounts for his goods a council of administration composed of three officers fixed the prices of his wares. For every officer and enlisted man at the post the sutler paid from ten to fifteen cents per month into the "post fund". This money was used for the relief of windows and orphans of soldiers, for the maintenance of the post school and band, and for the purpose of p265books for the post library. Anything and everything nearly could be purchased at the sutler's store — currants, raisins, candy, soap, tobacco, shoes, butter, cheese, clothing, spics, needles, tinware, brooms, brushes, and a multitude of other items. It was, in fact, grocery, hardware, dry goods, and clothing store for the fort.600

Life at old Fort Crawford was, indeed, a mosaic of many parts. Visitors to the post invariably mentioned the friendly hospitality of the garrison and the unfailing courtesy both of officers and men. That meticulous attention, too, with given to military regulations at Fort Crawford, inspection reports that have already been cited in this volume bear ample witness. The coming and going of troops, menial tasks changing with the seasons, high adventure on trips into the Indian country, the arrival of recruits, drill and inspection, dress parade and fatigue duty, dances and theatricals, hunting and fishing, work and play — all these filled the days, and months, and years of a very human garrison at this distant outpost of civilization.


The Author's Notes:

566 Hansen's Old Fort Snelling, pp84, 85. This account of daily routine at Fort Crawford is based on the report entitled Systems of Martial Law, and Field Service, and Police submitted by the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, to Congress on December 26, 1820. This report is composed of two parts — General Regulations for the Army and A System of Martial Law. The report appears in American State Papers, Military Affairs, Vol. II, pp201‑274.

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567 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. II, pp118, 147, 148, Vol. V, p264; Inspection Reports, Vol. I, 1814‑1823, p113, in the War Department, Washington, D. C.

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568 Atwater's Remarks made on a Tour to Prairie du Chien, p180.

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569 Atwater's Remarks made on a Tour to Prairie du Chien, p179.

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570 Atwater's Remarks made on a Tour to Prairie du Chien, p178; Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. V, pp330, 331, 353, 354.

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571 Atwater's Remarks made on a Tour to Prairie du Chien, pp178, 179; Elizabeth T. Baird's Reminiscences of Life in Territorial Wisconsin in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XV, pp232, 233.

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572 Latrobe's The Rambler in North America, Vol. II, pp261, 262.

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573 Latrobe's The Rambler in North America, Vol. II, pp265, 266, 268, 269, 314, 316, 317.

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574 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIV, p91, Vol. VII, p377. See also Baird's Reminiscences of Life in Territorial Wisconsin in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XV, pp225‑234.

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575 Hoffman's A Winter in the West, Vol. II, p9.

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576 Hoffman's A Winter in the West, Vol. II, pp10, 11, 12, 13, 14.

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577 Hoffman's A Winter in the West, Vol. II, pp14, 15.

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578 Hoffman's A Winter in the West, Vol. II, pp15, 16, 17.

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579 Hoffman's A Winter in the West, Vol. II, pp18, 19.

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580 Murray's Travels in North America, Vol. II, pp94, 95, 110.

The full title of this book is Travels in North America during the Years 1834, 1835, & 1836. Including a Summer Residence with the Pawnee Tribe of Indians, in the Remote Prairies of the Missouri, and a Visit to Cuba and the Azore Islands.

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581 Murray's Travels in North America, Vol. II, pp110‑131.

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582 Featherstonhaugh's A Canoe Voyage up the Minnay Sotar, p213.

The full title of this book is A Canoe Voyage up the Minnay Sotar, with an Account of the Lead and Copper Deposits in Wisconsin; of the Gold Region in the Cherokee Country; and Sketches of Popular Manners; &c., &c., &c..

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583 Featherstonhaugh's A Canoe Voyage up the Minnay Sotar, pp214‑218.

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584 Marryat's A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions, Vol. II, pp54‑78, contains the story of the trip from Fort Winnebago to Fort Crawford, and Marryat's sojourn of a week at the latter post.

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585 Marryat's A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions, Vol. II, pp1‑54.

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586 Marryat's A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions, Vol. II, pp54‑56.

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587 Marryat's A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions, Vol. II, pp56‑59.

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588 Marryat's A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions, Vol. II, p61, 62. See also Chronicle of the Helena Shot-Tower, by Orin Grant Libby in the Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. XIII, pp335‑374.

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589 Marryat's A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions, Vol. II, pp62‑64.

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590 Marryat's A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions, Vol. II, pp64‑66.

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591 Marryat's A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions, Vol. II, pp68, 69.

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592 Marryat's A Diary in America with Remarks on its Institutions, Vol. II, pp69‑77, 78, 81.

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593 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. V, pp238, 239.

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594 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. V, p258.

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595 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. V, pp255, 256.

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596 Quaife's The Northwestern Career of Jefferson Davis in the Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society, No. 30, pp67, 68; History of Crawford and Richland Counties, Wisconsin (1884), pp338, 339.

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597 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. II, pp263‑287, Vol. V, pp282, 283.

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598 Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. V, pp240, 241.

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599 The Army and Navy Chronicle, Vol. III, p31, Vol. VII, p160, Vol. IX, p16; Wisconsin Historical Collections, Vol. II, pp118, 119.

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600 American State Papers, Military Affairs, Vol. II, pp217, 218; Hansen's Old Fort Snelling, pp87‑89.


Thayer's Note:

a George William Featherstonhaugh is more than a passing traveler; he was a fairly important figure in American history, one of the earliest railroad pioneers. His career is told in fair detail by Alvin F. Harlow, The Road of the Century, pp4‑10, with a photograph of him on p20 of that chapter.

Some of his observations on native American women are quoted in I. B. Richman's Ioway to Iowa, pp156‑157.


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